Cummings' manager confidently correct Julius Henson spent election day at movies

March 11, 1996|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF

As Elijah E. Cummings sweated out Tuesday's Democratic primary for the 7th District congressional seat, his campaign manager went to the movies.

Almost as a testament to his cockiness, Julius Henson was so confident of victory -- he had predicted a 10-point win two months earlier, despite a volatile field of 27 candidates -- that he watched "Broken Arrow" that afternoon rather than wade into the election day fray.

"At that point, if you've done your job right, you just have to wait for the polls to close and count the votes," Mr. Henson said.

And when the votes were counted, Delegate Cummings did, in fact, win by 13 points over his nearest competition, the Rev. Frank M. Reid III, an influential pastor with a huge congregation and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's stepbrother.

The election day trip to the movies not only typifies Mr. Henson's confidence as a political handler, but also the arrogance people associate with his name.

Mr. Henson, 46, an East Baltimore entrepreneur who over the years has earned a living in printing, construction, rental properties and now politics, often is described by associates and enemies as brash, hot-tempered and difficult.

He acknowledges, but brushes off, those characterizations. "It really doesn't matter to me that people say I'm a son of a bitch," he said. "That's not who I am.

"I think people think my style is a little bit unorthodox, in that when I'm fighting you, it gets to the point that I see politics as war and I fight you hard to win.

"People say, 'Dag-gone, there is life after the election,' and I say, 'If you help my enemy, you are my enemy. If you can't help me, I got no use for you.' And that rubs people the wrong way."

There apparently is a flip side to Mr. Henson, who volunteers with several organizations for children, including the state's foster care review board.. liz

Nevertheless, it is no surprise that he recommends campaign workers read "The Art of War" by Sun Tzu, a Chinese military strategist who lived in the 5th century B.C. The book was the bible of Wall Street's corporate raiders in the 1980s and one that the late Lee Atwater, President Bush's campaign adviser, carried with him everywhere during the 1988 presidential campaign.

"An election is a transfer of power within a democracy without the guns and violence," Mr. Henson said. "You've got to take power. Nobody's going to give it to you."

With Mr. Cummings' victory, Mr. Henson scored his second big political win in six months. The first came in the September Democratic primary for city comptroller, when he masterminded Joan M. Pratt's win over popular former state Sen. Julian L. Lapides.

The back-to-back victories have catapulted him from nowhere to the front of the city's political arena. Several people have even put Mr. Henson in the same league as Mr. Schmoke's political godfather and campaign manager, Larry S. Gibson.

"When you talk about campaign strategists, you can't just talk about Larry Gibson anymore," said West Baltimore Del. Howard P. Rawlings, who backed Mr. Cummings. "You now have to talk about Julius Henson." dTC Arthur W. Murphy, a consultant to the 7th District campaign of Baltimore County Sen. Delores G. Kelley, had a somewhat different point to make about Mr. Henson.

"I respect him a great deal. I just don't like his attitude," Mr. Murphy said.

Mr. Henson grew up in the now-leveled Lafayette Courts public housing project in East Baltimore. He was educated in city public schools, graduating from Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School after "wasting three years learning aircraft mechanics."

He went on to earn a degree in business from Morgan State University, where he later was director of the school's Drug Abuse Education Center.

Over the years Mr. Henson has owned a number of businesses, including a printing company that put out campaign literature, but says he has not done anything except politics for the last 18 months. He still has several investment rental properties in some of the poorest areas of the city -- houses he picked up at auction, including some he owned with Ms. Pratt.

He dabbled in politics himself 20 years ago, running for clerk of the Circuit Court. In 1974, he captured a respectable 17,000 votes in the two-man Democratic primary, but lost to the machine-backed John D. Hubble.

After a stint in the Army, much of it in Europe, he became involved with the Eastside Democratic Organization of former Mayor Clarence H. Du Burns. But the alliance soon broke apart and Mr. Henson went his own way.

One of the more frequent questions asked of him is whether he is related to Baltimore Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III, the political muscle in the Schmoke-Gibson organization.

He is not, he is quick to say.

In fact, he is not particularly friendly with the Schmoke-Gibson-Henson triumvirate, though he says he respects Mr. Gibson.

"I think we're going to change government in Baltimore and I think they're going to be left out of the equation," Mr. Henson said.

Since heading the comptroller's transition team, he has talked about taking a position as the city's real estate officer -- a post in the office of Ms. Pratt, his close friend, one-time business partner and "favorite candidate." Many around City Hall believe he will ask for the job -- to help Ms. Pratt politically in the office and position her as a strong challenger to Mayor Schmoke in 1999.

"Right now we have a professional political class, and they either keep the seat forever or they play musical chairs with the seat," Mr. Henson said. "If you're not a politician that is serving what I believe is the interest of the people, then I'm going to make you lose."

Pub Date: 3/11/96

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